Edward Snowden's revelations regarding the extent of the National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance programs have provoked varying reactions, ranging from those who have praised him highly, to those who have said he is guilty of treason and have called for both him and the journalists who reported the story to be prosecuted. Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg argued that "there has not been in American history a more important leak," while unlikely bedfellows Glenn Beck and Michael Moore have both hailed Snowden as a hero.
Others, however, have been less than impressed, to say the least, with his actions. What they all have in common is that they have fallen into the trap, one that is actively being promoted by the government, of buying into the false choice between protecting civil liberties and ensuring national security. Rather than focusing on the actions of the government and its vague, classified justifications for its worryingly far reaching surveillance practices, rather than seeking to defend civil liberties, they have instead levelled their criticisms at Snowden himself and the journalists who reported the story. Here are some of the worst reactions:
Boehner labeled Snowden a "traitor" for his actions, saying that the leaks have put "Americans at risk" and constitute a "giant violation of the law." Boehner defended the surveillance practices, saying that they are important because the president said so.
Republican Representative Peter King has called for reporters who publish leaked classified information to be prosecuted for doing so, saying "if they willingly knew that this was classified information, I think action should be taken, especially on something of this magnitude." That is, he called for reporters to be punished for doing their jobs, despite the publication of classified material not actually being illegal in the U.S. Other lawmakers have also made similar calls.
King said, "I think on something of this magnitude, there is an obligation both moral but also legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something that would so severely compromise national security."
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has called Snowden's actions treasonous, saying "I don't look at this as being a whistle-blower. I think it's an act of treason." While Feinstein said that she will open congressional inquiries into the program, she accused Snowden of violating his oath to defend the Constitution.
She also defended NSA surveillance practices, saying that they have "collected significant information on bad guys, but only on bad guys." Although, obviously, she can't tell us more because that is classified.
Reacting to revelations that the NSA is collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers, regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing or not, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said that he is glad the agency is doing so. Why? Because if they don't then the terrorists will win.
Jeffrey Toobin, writing for the New Yorker, argues that Snowden is neither a hero nor a whistle-blower but rather a "grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison." Others have also called him a narcissist. Despite Snowden's explicit reasoning for his actions, to expose the widespread and shocking extent of U.S. surveillance practices, Toobin claims that his actions speak "more to his ego than his conscience" and that he simply "threw the secrets he knew up in the air."
In an extraordinary rant, Fox News analyst Ralph Peters accused Snowden of committing treason simply to gain attention and, arguing that "we need to get very very serious about treason," called for the death penalty to be brought back for Snowden and WikiLeaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning.
Peters' also claimed that Snowden "wants to be the national security Kim Kardashian," saying that "we have made treason cool, betraying your country is kind of a fashion statement."